Kruger Safari Tips

Before going on safari in Kruger, I was so unsure on how everything would work, and what we’d be able to accomplish from our own car. The more I tried to include my tips for a successful safari, the more I realised I had enough to say to fill an entire post. So behold! My safari tips for Kruger!

To start, I want to talk about guided vs self-drive safaris. We did two guided tours and the rest we did on our own. As the price isn’t too steep, anyone with a semi-flexible budget can probably do both, and I’m going to outline the pros and cons of each.

Guided

Pros:

  • You can spend more hours on Safari as guided trucks can leave before the gates officially open and return after they close. They have giant lights installed to search the bush in the dark, and everyone looks for eyes reflecting in the lights.
  • There are more eyes to look for hidden animals. I honestly don’t think we ever would have noticed half the lions we saw were it not for others’ keen eyes. Honestly, the only one we discovered for ourselves was moseying down the road only a few feet away.
  • Guides (and sometimes other passengers) know so much about the animals you are seeing, and having that insight is really valuable and adds to the experience.
  • You have a driver – I think Gareth actually loved driving through Kruger, but the freedom of just sitting back and letting someone else do it all for you is really appealing.
  • Guides have a network of other guides who can let them know where the best sightings currently are
  • Some tours (not our government sponsored ones) have both a driver and a spotter, and I imagine these people saw LOADS, as our drivers managed to drive huge trucks while spotting the tiniest, smallest animals from quite far away.

Cons:

  • Our second tour was in a huge truck. It fit about 20 people, and was so big and rattley I can’t imagine a single animal didn’t hear us coming from miles away.
  •  We were also among about 18 other people who were on their first tour and shrieked every time we saw anything – even our tenth zebra. Everyone is having their own experience and if you’re not with a group who wants to be quite and try to spot the rarer animals, then you’re probably going to miss out on them. I definitely left our second tour feeling like we would have seen more and covered much more ground in our quiet, quick little sedan.

Self-Drive


Pros:

  • We loved the freedom of self drive. It feels so much more special when it’s just you and an elephant right next to your car, or giraffes, or a lion! You also have the freedom to do everything at your own pace, like the time we waited for two hours to try to see a leopard.
  • The drive is an adventure – you can choose left or right, when to turn and when to skip a place, and where to end up. Doing that allowed us to spend time at Lower Sabie and Sakuza as well.
  • While you won’t have a guide or ten other people in your car, you still have lots of eyes looking out. The best tip from Kruger is anytime you see a car pulled over, if usually means there’s something cool to see. We may not have been the best at spotting things ourselves, but people are more than willing to tell you what they’ve found. We also made a point to drive with the windows down, so as you passed other cars you could exchange tips – even if it’s just a thumbs up or down. Guides will also tell you want they know (though are more likely to be in a mood to share if you have any info to trade).
  • Self-drive allowed us to spend as much time as we wanted in each place and to take breaks just to be in awe of the scenery. We may have missed a few things, but the best moments we had were all when it was just us, and even more magical for the quiet privacy (or the low tunes of Toto’s Africa).

You can see my pictures here, I made sure to label what we saw on guided vs self guided tours. I think the end result was the same, honestly. I’d recommend a mix of both, but I originally was thinking we’d only do guided tours and I’m so glad we gave self guided a chance. Self-drive allowed us to spend as much time as we wanted in each place and to take breaks just to be in awe of the scenery. We may have missed a few things, but the best moments we had were all when it was just us, and even more magical for the quiet privacy (or the low tunes of Toto’s Africa).

Other Safari tips:

Book Early

We missed out on our first choice, Lower Sabie, because we didn’t book early enough. We almost missed out on our second choice, Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp, but luckily three months was enough notice to get one of the last permanent tents – they still had bungalows available three months out as well.

Lights out!

Each permanent structure has its own little deck, and so many people made the mistake of sitting outside with the lights in their tents/bungalows on. By the time they went in to go to sleep, their spaces had filled with bugs. We were really strict with it – but were one of the only people who didn’t wind up covered in bugs while we slept. I didn’t see any inside our tent the whole time.

Charcoal

This will depend on where you’re staying, but I only realised we’d need this about an hour before we arrived. Luckily if you’re going in via Crocodile Bridge Gate, there is a Super Spar in Komatipoort, which is only like ten minutes from the gate. This is also were we stocked up on food and water, though each camp has a shop as well.

When to drive

The animals are far more active in the mornings and evenings. We woke up around half five every morning and came back just before the gates closed every evening. From about 10 am – 4 pm there was much less to see. Still feel free to drive around during this time, but we saw some very disappointed looking people on guided drives in the middle of the day, which would be a real waste of money.

Guide Boards

Every camp has a map with that day’s sightings, so if you’re looking for something in particular (leopards and cheetah alluded us!), they can be pretty helpful.

Guided Tours

We considered doing a tour with a different camp that offered a tour with a driver and a spotter, but it ended after the gates locked and we would have been stuck at the wrong camp. Something to consider when deciding where to stay/booking your guided tours.

I hope this was helpful and I’m always happy to answer any questions!

Safari in Kruger National Park

Kruger was the best introduction to South Africa. It was the most anticipated, dreamed of part of the trip, and even with sky high expectations, it didn’t disappoint. This post is more of a photo diary, but you can find my tips for going on safari in Kruger here, and a cost breakdown here.

We arrived in Kruger around midday, and spent an hour getting settled in to our home for the next few days. Our tent had everything we needed – even a full-size refrigerator and a wardrobe! It was hot, so the fact that we were in separate twin beds was not as tragic as it could have been.
Kruger National Park Permanent Tent

kruger day one: Guided Drive

We left a few hours later for a sunset game drive, one of the two guided drives we went on. It was a perfect start to an incredible few days – we saw four of the Big Five on that drive alone! This experience was different (read: better) than our second guided tour. Here, we were in a smaller truck with just 5 other people, who were all experienced and knew so much about the animals we were seeing.

Lions in Kruger National Park

Highlights were going off road (I guess technically not allowed!), and seeing four sleepy lionesses semi stalking an impala. We also got up close and personal with an elephant at sunset, saw a group of rhino, and quite a few buffalo. We didn’t see a Leopard (spoiler alert: we never did!), but otherwise saw so much. It was actually quite overwhelming. I was living out a dream I’ve had for so long, and it was even better than I had imagined. It didn’t feel real – here I was, a few feet from a lion, an elephant, giraffe! I settled in, but the dream-like quality lasted the entire trip.

Lions in Kruger National ParkYawning lion in Kruger National ParkRhino in Kruger National Park Rhino in Kruger National ParkGame drive in Kruger National Park

kruger Day Two: Self Drives

The next morning we slept in (for Kruger) until 6:00 am. We decided to drive to the Lower Sabie camp, because the route from Crocodile Bridge to Lower Sabie is one of the best in Kruger. We were alone with four giraffes, just meandering down the street, and an elephant that got so close we had to keep backing away. There was no one else on the road, and being alone with these animals was so cool and special. At one point when we were driving, I put on the song Africa, which I had always known I’d one day listen to while on safari, and maybe shed a tear or two at how incredible big and sprawling and beautiful everything was.

African elephant drinking water in Kruger National Park African elephantGiraffe in Kruger National ParkGiraffe in Kruger National Park walking giraffe in Kruger National Park

We then came upon a huge group of cars, probably the largest we saw the whole time we were there. It took ages to figure out what everyone was looking at, but finally we spotted it. There was a dead impala that had been dragged up a tree. Everyone was camped out, waiting to see if the leopard who had done it would be back. We waited for two hours, but never spotted her. However, she was there, just under the tree. The woman in the car next to us saw her lift her head, look around at the commotion, and go back to sleep. It’s hard work being a leopard.

Dead impala in a tree in Kruger National Park

We made it to Lower Sabie around noon, where we had lunch, a nap, and read a bit. It was a good place to hang out because from the desk we could see hippo, buffalo, and crocodiles. We’d already had such a busy few days with only one of the past three nights sleeping in actual beds, and we were feeling it.

hippo, crocodile, and buffalo in Kruger National Park

can you spot the crocodile?

After a few hours of blissful relaxation, we headed back out for a final drive before returning to camp. We saw a few more lionesses, and millions (approximately) impala and zebra.

Impala in Kruger National ParkKudu in Kruger National ParkScratching baby monkey in Kruger National ParkMonkey family in Kruger National ParkImpala and lake in Kruger National Park Hornbill bird in Kruger National ParkZebra crossing Zebra in Kruger National ParkLionness in Kruger National ParkKruger National Park

kruger day three: guided drive

The next morning we did a sunrise drive, meaning we had to be up at 4:30 for the 5:00 am start. This drive was less fruitful than the last one. The highlight was finding some baby hyenas, which were seriously cute. We also saw a rhino, some zebra, and an elephant, and some gorgeous landscapes.

Baby hyena in Kruger National Park Baby hyena in Kruger National ParkKissing impala in Kruger National Park fighting implala in Kruger National Park eating giraffe in Kruger National ParkAfrican elephant in Kruger National ParkKruger National Park River

kruger day three: self drive

We got back to camp and drove around looking for cheetah and leopards on our way to Skakuza. We didn’t see any, but instead had a fully grown male lion walk down the road right near our car! It was incredible! His lady was waiting for him in the grass nearby.

Lion walking down road in Kruger National ParkLioness in grass in Kruger National Park
We had lunch there (the steakhouse is delicious), and then headed back out. As this was our last day we wanted to see absolutely everything we could. A fun thing about this area of the park is that there are three camps fairly close to each other, and you bump into the same people over and over. After only three days there were so many familiar faces and people to swap stories with – the couple camped next to us had a leopard and her cubs cross right in front of them!

giraffes in shadow in Kruger National ParkGiraffe in Kruger National ParkAfrica elephant in Kruger National ParkAfrican elephant in Kruger National Parkbathing buffalo in Kruger National Parkwalking rhino in Kruger National ParkJumping Rhino in Kruger National ParkStomping Rhino in Kruger National ParkKruger Road

As we drove back on our final safari, the sun was setting so beautifully and we put Africa back on and it was one of our best drives. We saw elephant and lions and a rhino playing around. I was so, so sad our time in Kruger was coming to an end, but so grateful we got to experience it. I’m happy we did this first, because for the end of the safari to also be the end to our trip might have been too much – at least this way I still had our Garden Route road trip, Franschhoek, and Cape Town to look forward to!

South African Safari on a Budget

Before I actually started planning our South African safari, I thought it would cost thousands of pounds. And while that can be true, Kruger can absolutely be done on a budget. Yes, there are private reserves that offer the luxury associated with safari, but there are also affordable government run camps. The public camps plus the fact that Kruger allows self-drive through the park, means you have a lot of control over cost. Below I’ll break down how to do a South African safari on a budget.

Cost of a South african Safari

We opted to stay in Crocodile Bridget Rest Camp, which was one of the cheaper camps, but in a great location. We were in a permanent tent, which was a mid-range option — you could also rent a bungalow or spot to pitch a tent. I did feel a bit of regret when we arrived and I saw how cute the bungalows were, but our tent was actually really nice. Larger camps have these options (as well as houses, huts, and cottages), but are generally more expensive.


We stayed for three nights and it was 100 GBP total. However, there are conservation fees that depend on nationality – people from South Africa pay a much lower rate than people from the US or Europe. I support that fully, but make sure to take it into account when budgeting cost. These fees were actually more than our accommodation (an additional 120 GPB). We booked two drives with a guide, and those were 20 GBP per person.

Basically, two of us stayed in Kruger for three nights and went on two guided game drives for £300 total. What!


We also rented a car for four days for 50 pounds. This allowed us to get to Kruger and self-drive, which we ended up preferring anyway!


Who knew that going on safari can be affordable, that it’s something you can possibly do sooner rather than later! It’s so much more accessible than I thought, and now I want to do 100 more identical trips!

Stopover Tour: 18 hours in Egypt

Anyone familiar with my 30 Before 30 knows I still have quite a few countries to visit before I reach my goal. South Africa had been #1 on my list for a while, so we decided to take advantage of the double bank holiday and go. And once we realized how easy it would be to have a stopover in Egypt, we couldn’t pass that up!

We decided to fly Egyptair from London to Cairo to Johannesburg, with an 18 hour stop over on our journey down. I was worried it would be too hectic after a redeye the night before, but luckily it ended up being AMAZING and so worth it. I cannot recommend a stopover in Cairo enough.

Before leaving we had booked in with Memphis Tours. We had what felt like the perfect Cairo itinerary. It fit everything in but didn’t feel rushed — ideal when you’ve only got a day. When we first arrived, I may or may not have cried a few happy tears – we were IN EGYPT!

I’d wanted to visit Cairo for years and years but kept worrying it was too dangerous. I wasn’t the only one, as tourism dropped considerably in the last few years. In 2010 about 15 million people visited Egypt; by 2016 that number was 5 million. It’s hit the economy quite hard as tourism accounted for 11% of GDP. Tourism is now steadily rising, which is good for everyone – the locals who work in the industry, but also for travellers, as Egypt isn’t a place anyone should miss. Personally, I felt completely, 100% safe during our time there.

Would I go with a guide again?

Other than one walking tour I did in 2010 in Barcelona, I’d never been an organized tour and was worried we’d miss the autonomy, or feel like the guide was an awkward third wheel. I am so happy to report that’s not at all what it felt like, and instead having Ahmed made the whole thing so much more meaningful. It also wasn’t too bad having someone there to force G to pose for pictures!

The Ministry regulates tour guide certifications, and  requires guides to pass licensing tests in Egyptian history, local museums, cultural attractions, and at least one foreign language. As we only had 18 hours, having someone with us who could explain the history behind everything was invaluable. It also allowed us to ask a lot of questions about life in Cairo, and in 18 hours we might not have gotten close enough to another local to get that insight.

Because we had such limited time (and knowledge), a guide was definitely the right choice for us. I’d feel comfortable without a guide, but in a place with such a rich history I could definitely see booking another tour when I go back to explore a different part of the country.

itinerary

1.  The Pyramids

I’m going to really show some ignorance here, but I thought it took hundreds of years to build the pyramids. Apparently it was more like 20 years for each one. The Giza pyramids were built by one ruler, then his son and grandson. Each was a bit smaller than the previous out of respect, and there are smaller pyramids that were built for wives and mothers. Because all the pyramids look the same from the inside, we went into one of the (free) smaller ones. As it was less popular, we had it all to ourselves! This was great because getting down was actually much more scary that I had imagined – it’s really narrow and really steep. It would have been easy to feel claustrophobic had it been more crowded.

2. The Sphynx

The Sphynx was erected  around 3000 BC for the pharaoh Khafra, who also built the second pyramid. The nose was carved off by a Sufi Muslim man who disapproved the of iconoclasm, and he was hanged for this offense.  Not much else is known, but wikipedia has some cool images of the Sphynx from the 1800s when it was still half buried in sand.

3. Camel Ride!

This was such a cool experience. I remember first learning about the ancient Egyptians in school, and I NEVER imagined that one day I’d be riding a camel through the Sahara to the Pyramids. And yet, there I was! On a surprisingly wobbly, tall camel, making our way through the desert. I was really into it.

4. Felucca

We had the boat to ourselves and cruised around the Nile for about 45 minutes. Again, 7 year old Kristen’s head would explode.

5. Shopping

The one part of the tour I didn’t love were the shops. They weren’t presented as shopping as much as we were told we’d be taken to see how Papyrus was made, and after the demonstration it was incredibly clear we were then meant to buy something. The shopkeeper followed us around, and once we made our choice (around £30), was clearly angry we hadn’t spent more. The guy at the next store was less aggressive, but it still felt like we were completely obligated to make a purchase. This part of the tour was optional, so after the second shop we just opted out.  I understand tourism is suffering, so tried not to be too put off by the aggressive expectation that we drop some serious cash.

6. egyptian Museum

This museum was incredible! It housed SO many treasures, it would take days to go through everything. However, Ahmed knew exactly where the most important stuff was, and gave a thorough history of everything we saw. The highlight was King Tut’s tombs and the artefacts found inside. Did you know that Egyptian pharaohs were buried with everything? And I mean everything — beds, chairs, cats, cows, you name it, and it’s there.

7. Hotel

Do not book an 18 hour stop over without also booking a hotel. We didn’t but by pure luck our airline gave anyone with an 8 hour or more layover a free hotel room. Originally the plan was to land at 5:00 am, “do Cairo,” and depart at 23:30. Without the hotel that would have been terrible, and I’m so happy Egyptair saved us that experience. After our tour we were exhausted, so we had a shower and went down to our free buffet dinner, also provided by Egyptair (as well we breakfast and lunch, what!). We flew out that night for our next adventure: a safari in Kruger!

My first Egyptian excursion was wonderful, but not nearly long enough. I can’t wait to go back!

A PERFECT SOUTH AFRICA ITINERARY

This Easter, Gareth and I were lucky enough to spend two weeks in South Africa. It was by far the most exciting and adventurous trip I’ve ever taken (I cried tears of happiness two different times!), as well as the farthest from home. We had 13 packed days in South Africa (and one day in Cairo!) and while it’s impossible to do everything in 13 days, I put hours and hours into researching the perfect South Africa itinerary — all that hard work paid off, because I think I did it!

In the coming weeks I’m going to post about each of the five sections of the trip in detail, but here I’m going to share the basic itinerary. Two weeks always means some things will have to be left off, but I think we fit in a great mix of things. Each of our five segments felt very different — because of that by the time we came back to London two weeks later, it felt like we had been gone for months and been on five completely different trips.

Our South Africa Itinerary

Cairo (Day 1)

We took a red eye from London to Cairo on Egypt Air. While there were cheaper options, this one allowed me to build in an 18 hour layover, which was enough time to do a great tour of the city. While one day is not nearly enough to cover Egypt, it did feel like we saw nearly every major tourist attraction in Cairo itself.

Kruger (Days 2 – 4)

Elephant, Kruger National Park

We landed in Johannesburg at 5:00 am on the second day of our trip. We’d booked ahead so there was a car rental ready, and drove straight to Crocodile Bridge Gate, which was right next to our camp (4.5 hours from Joburg airport). We did an evening game drive on day two, and sunrise and sunset tours days three and four. I have so many tips and recommendations about Kruger, including how to do it on a budget! And a photo diary as well. I think this was the best part of our trip — it was so magical, and completely unlike anything else I’ve ever done. We had three nights and nearly three full days there, and while I would have loved to stay longer I didn’t feel rushed or like we didn’t have enough time to have a real safari experience.

Garden Route (Days 5 – 8)

Garden Route, South Africa

We left Kruger at 4:00 am day five and drove back to Joburg airport to catch our flight to Port Elizabeth. This started the Garden Route! The Garden Route runs from Storms River to Mossel Bay, and while we only stayed in Storms River and Knysna, we did activities in each of the towns along the way. We had four days and three nights for this part of the trip, and it was so fun to move from place to place, making each day its own adventure. During this trip we did one of the best hikes of my life, ziplined, kayaked, cliff jumped, ate some really good food, and drove through some astounding landscapes.

Franschhoek (Days 9 – 10)

Franschhoek, Wine Region

Wine region! During planning, we went back and forth on this — having lived so close to Santa Barbara and in La Rioja, I wasn’t sure taking a few days out of our trip to go on wine tastings would be worth it. I’m so so glad we went! We had planned on Stellenbosch, as I had heard the name thrown around much more often, but Franschhoek is like its cuter, smaller little sister and was an oasis in the mountains. Plus Franschhoek has a wine tram! Need I say more??

Cape Town (Days 10 – 14)

Bo Kaap Colors

Day ten was really just the journey from Franschhoek to Cape Town (we stopped in Betty’s Bay to see the penguins, and took a longer route along the coast which was so. worth. it).

Cape Town was incredible. We did so much — a walking tour of the city, climbed Table Mountain (it was so hard, but so worth it), explored Bo Kaap, ate at some amazing restaurants, went to the Waterfront, hung out in Company’s Gardens, shopped along Green Market Square, and had dinner in a Township. Cape Town was the first place we really had time to just wander and take everything day by day, and it was welcomed after the packed schedule we had leading up to it. It was the perfect, chilled end to an incredible trip.

Like it said, there’s no way to do absolutely everything, and there are some things not on this South Africa itinerary that others may not be willing to skip — we didn’t go shark diving because I don’t think after that I’d ever get in the water unless I was still in a cage. We didn’t to Addo or an Ostrich Park because we had seen so many elephants and ostriches along the way. But in the detailed posts I’ll explain where and how you can do these things and give as much information as I can!